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Photos: Brunch at The Torpedo Room

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One of the latest Columbus Food League arrivals, The Torpedo Room, launched a limited brunch menu this past Sunday in conjunction with a monthly event of brunch + a classic movie at the Gateway Film Center. I took my five-year-old to go check out the brunch (although I don’t think he’s quite ready for Goldfinger). The Torpedo Room is located on the main floor of the GFC; you’ll see the signs just to the left of the concession stand.

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As you might expect, the single-room restaurant uses a heavy nautical theme, with round portholes, heavy draped curtains, and a 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea feel.

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There’s a good amount of seating, and the restaurant includes a full bar. It’s a cozy and quiet spot.

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The current brunch menu (it may change) features seven items, lots of sides, plus drinks (including the bar). There’s a heavy southwestern theme, with burritos, enchiladas, and huevos rancheros taking the lead. Like every CFL restaurant, you can rely on solid vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free options.

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I took the opportunity to finally try a Rambling House ginger beer. Rambling House produces their own natural sodas out of a small space in southern Clintonville (where they host a LOT of live music), and their sodas are showing up on tap around town. The ginger beer is bright, fizzy, and a delightful balance between sweet and a nice gingery pucker. The last few gulps were especially strong with the ginger. You could make some great cocktails out of this.

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I chose the egg and cheese enchiladas, because you don’t see many breakfast enchiladas out there. The two enchiladas are filled with eggs and cheese, and topped heavily with a spicy verde salsa; I added the optional chorizo, because… well, chorizo. They’re served with a small plate of hash browns.

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Will asked for the breakfast burrito, a good-sized one filled with eggs, cheese, beans, sausage, and salsa, plus a side of potatoes.

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It was as filling and tasty as you would expect from a breakfast burrito.

Overall, it’s a solid brunch that’s just getting started. Expect the menu to change and hopefully regular hours to be established.

If you want to visit:
The Torpedo Room
1550 N. High St. (inside the Gateway Film Center)
Columbus, OH 43201
(614) 247-4433

Currently brunch is just served with this event. Upcoming movie brunches (cost is $15 for both your meal and the movie ticket) include:
April 6th: Breathless
May 4th: Annie Hall

UPDATED: Regular brunch hours are Sat & Sun, 11a-2p; Cinema Classic brunches start at 12p, movie is at 2.

The Torpedo Room on Urbanspoon

Beyond Breakfast: The Coop

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It’s a shame I haven’t written about The Coop yet because a.) they’re in our neighborhood, and b.) I can easily justify their food as counting as breakfast, since nearly every dish they serve involves some sort of eggs, be it chicken, duck, goose, turkey, or even quail.

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The Coop is a converted amusement park concession stand, and as the name indicates, poultry is their game. Although we’re not super regulars, we’ve come to know The Coop as the source for dishes – especially burgers – with unusual meats. You won’t find a regular beef hamburger here. Instead, you’ll find a yak burger. Or bison burger. Or turducken (turkey + duck + chicken) tacos. Or a benedict with turkey eggs. You get the picture.

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Owner Angela Theado recently finished a run of cooking weekends at the Hey Hey Bar & Grill in German Village (the kitchen has since been taken over by the Swoop! Food Truck crew). She’s now back at the original location at the corner of Indianola and Cliffside in southern Clintonville. It was recently announced that the building there will be renovated into the Coop Cafe, with Angela taking over the kitchen. I have to say that we’re immensely excited about it. The space has sat empty for as long as we can remember, and having a small cafe run by a proven restaurateur makes us very, very happy.

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The menu rotates a bit, so it’s a good idea to follow them on Facebook. This is what we tried on a couple of our most recent visits.

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Burgers are one of The Coop’s signatures. This is the bison burger, with a bison patty, bacon, havarti, a house-made mayo, and a sunny side up chicken egg. As far as burgers go, it’s pretty solid. I’ve had bison a few times, and its taste and texture is reminiscent of beef, just a little leaner. With the egg, bacon, and cheese, you can bet that this is a messy burger to eat, so be prepared.

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If your group includes a non-meat-eater amongst you, there is usually an option. Admittedly, this vegan coconut curry with plaintain was not our favorite thing on the menu. It’s hard to eat rice out of a container lined with foil. The foil eventually starts peeling up, and we thought the dish needed more spice overall.

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Amongst their burgers, The Coop’s yak burger is perhaps their most well-known, and rightfully so. It’s a tasty and drippy, delicious mess. I like the bison burger, but the yak is better, in my opinion. it’s lean and a little gamier, which is maybe why I prefer it. I like to taste the definite difference from a standard beef burger. At times the yak is over-powered by the bacon and cheese, but it’s hard to argue against any of the ingredients, and especially when sinking your teeth through them all together.

If you want to visit:
The Coop
2701 Indianola Ave. (map it!)
(614) 581-9353
Follow The Coop and Coop Cafe on Facebook
coopontherun.com

The Coop on Urbanspoon

Surly Girl Saloon | Columbus, OH

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Surly Girl Saloon (Facebook / @SurlyGirlSaloon)
1126 N. High St. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43201
(614) 294-4900
Open daily 11a-2a (brunch served Sat & Sun, 11a-4p)
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/Y/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Sunday, July 14, 2013 at 12:30pm

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In many ways it’s really easy to write about Surly Girl Saloon, because I’m generally pre-disposed to liking Columbus Food League restaurants. Maybe they’re not the most cutting edge eateries in Columbus, but I don’t think they’re trying to be. CFL spots “understand their DNA,” to borrow a phrase from Alton Brown; they’re built around a certain theme and they run with it unabashedly: hot dogs for Dirty Frank’s, tiki lounge for Grass Skirt, Ohio comfort food for Tip Top, you get the picture.

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Surly Girl’s DNA is that of a kick-ass cowgirl bar. The name says it all: the old-timey title of saloon, and the reference to the surly girl. True that form, menu items have different surly names, and women-led breweries are highlighted on the beer menu.

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Over-the-top decorations, including an assortment of gaudy chandeliers, hearken back to the saloon and the rowdy music hall.

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Saturday and Sunday brunch take the appropriate tone, with spicy comfort foods backed up by an array of beers and cocktails, like a sassy and slightly spicy Bloody Mary.

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Or a very cool and simple mimosa.

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For my tastes, CFL restaurants always have a solid beer selection. I can easily find 5-6 things I’ll like, which makes places like Surly Girl an easy choice if you want drinks and food, even as late as 2 a.m. (which is not generally the case for me, but it’s nice knowing the option is there). At this brunch, I snagged a Jackie O’s (out of Athens, OH) IPA. Admittedly, a big IPA like this one doesn’t always play well with others on the palate, but it hit the spot.

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Like the rest of Surly Girl’s menu, the brunch menu focuses on pretty simple and likeable comfort food, all with a southwest-y kick. Case in point: the West of the Pecos nachos, an easy-to-demolish pile of nacho chips, cheese, eggs, veggies, sour cream, and salsa. Many of the CFL restaurants use a white cheese sauce that’s completely addictive.

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The southwest shells & cheese comes off the regular menu. Like the nachos, its base ingredients are pretty simple but very, very easy to like.

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I opted for the black bean huevos surlitos, the house version of huevos rancheros. It’s an open tortilla filled with black beans, veggies, eggs, avocado, ranchero sauce, plus I added the pulled pork. Overall, I liked it – the tortilla does get a little too crispy when it’s toasted, and I think the pulled pork is necessary – it really makes the dish. It comes with a side of well-seasoned potatoes and orange slices.

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And then we topped it off with The High Noon, a version of Surly Girl’s BLT&A sandwich (a BLT + avocado) with an egg. It’s a really tasty breakfast sandwich, also coming with a side of potatoes.

Surly Girl – like all of the CFL restaurants, I think – is a solid bet for brunch. They always have a reliable line-up of drinks, the menu has a little variety while staying true to their identity as a southwestern cowgirl bar, and the food itself is easy eating, especially if you’re catching up after a late night. Also, not many places will serve brunch until 4 p.m.!

Surly Girl Saloon on Urbanspoon

The Crest Gastropub | Columbus, OH

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The Crest Gastropub (Facebook / @TheCbusCrest)
2855 Indianola Ave. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43202
(614) 261-7128
Open daily 11a-1a (brunch served Sat & Sun)
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/Y/Y
Kid-friendly? Y (for brunch, at least)

Visited: Sunday, July 28, 2013 at 12:30 p.m.

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Ah, finally here we are: having brunch at The Crest. I’ve been sitting on this post for a while because the Crest is one of the more talked-about new restaurants in recent months. This is my first time here for any meal, although Mrs. Bfast w/Nick has visited for drinks and snacks, and many trusted friends have been here multiple times at different times of the day.

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So why did I wait so long to write this up? A few reasons:

1. There’s been a lot of discussion about the Crest, more so than any other restaurant that’s opened recently. Some of the debate revolves around the old versus the new Crest, which in my mind are completely different things. The old Crest was a neighborhood dive bar that lived for decades. I personally never went there; I just had no desire to. If I wanted the dive experience in Clintonville, I would go to O’Reilly’s instead (and still can). The new Crest is totally revamped: cleaned out, built up, replanted.

2. The Crest is in my neighborhood, and it’s been central to a small south Clintonville renaissance that’s included Savor Growl and the just-announced Coop Cafe. Maybe some of these newer places are slicker and lack the layers of nostalgia, but they’re bright and approachable. Personally, I love seeing these dingy spots renovated. It’s good for our neighborhood.

3. The Crest labels itself as a “gastropub,” and that word stirs up mixed reactions. Again, I’m fine with it (I’m easy-going). Yes, maybe the trend is just making its way to Columbus, having been first applied to gourmet pubs in London in the early 90′s. But if it helps communicate what your restaurant is about (beer + slightly upscale pub food), then go for it.

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This is a lot of qualification for a blog review. I guess that’s because I’m generally not a negative person, but a majority of our experience at The Crest’s brunch was subpar. Not completely awful, just leaving me with no desire to return for brunch.

First, what’s good about it: The Crest’s space is gorgeously re-done. Lots of wood accents, spherical lighting, copper plating. A rooftop garden is growing much of their produce. Even the smaller landscaping around the patio and along Indianola are being utilized to grow vegetables and herbs. The space is bright and beautiful, and as a bar they seem to succeed: interesting (if a little pricy) cocktail list, expansive selection of beer on draft and bottled.

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The Crest has what you would expect of a gastropub menu: dishes that start as basic pub food like burgers, fries, grilled cheese, then modify them with seasonal ingredients and creative preparations. See above: wild boar sausage, grilled cheese with aged cheddar, pomegranate molasses on lamb lollipops.

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While the food seems to be taking center stage, I’ve seen The Crest receive the most compliments – and this was true at brunch – for their drinks. A number of people have said it’s a better bar than restaurant, and from my experience, I’d say that’s true. Case in point here: a pint of Seventh Son’s strong ale at happy hour prices. Yes, please. Also available was the Crestilada, a modification of the Bloody Mary that included beer instead of vodka. The substitution worked around Clintonville’s archaic laws forbidding liquor sales before a certain time on Sunday.

So very good drinks, but they highlight some of the problems with service: no one seems to be talking to each other. The host who sat us told us about the Crestilada, but our server had never heard of it. Our server initially told us all draft beer was half off on Sundays until 8pm. Oh, wait, no it isn’t. Oh, wait, yes it is. Oh, sorry, no it isn’t but we’ll give you the happy price anyway. Our server took our order but others brought our food; which I know other restaurants do, but then our server was no where to be found to answer questions. It was like the service was so decentralized that no one knew 100% what was going on.

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Frustration with the service doesn’t put you in a good mood when your food arrives. We ordered a mix of things, starting with the parfait, a well-done and deconstructed version of the on-the-go breakfast. It’s made with a layer of yogurt covered in fruit fresh and granola with honey. It feels odd at first eating a horizontal parfait, but it does let you mix-and-match your bites.

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I continued with the sweet trend and ordered the orange blossom French toast, made with orange blossom water (I’m not sure how), ricotta, maple syrup, and a berry compote. The ricotta was barely to be found, and quite honestly the berry compote was so overwhelming you couldn’t taste anything else. Not the bread, not the syrup (which if it was there, I couldn’t see it), barely the toast. The compote was simply too tart and strong that the rest of the dish didn’t matter.

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The Mrs. went for the Crest burger and fries, one of the signature items on the menu. As far as burgers go, it’s nicely done although not mind-blowing. We were still negotiating the French toast and the odd service to really appreciate the burger. It’s served on a cutting board like many of their meals (I’m told), which generally I’m fine with. But aren’t wooden cutting boards difficult to clean between uses?

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The burger came with a cup of potatoes, done up with sauteed veggies.

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Honestly, it’s the little details that can make or break a meal. What kind of broke it for us were those little things. Like the server not knowing what’s going on, the French toast being completely unbalanced, or even details like the cap of the hot sauce bottle (labeled with masking tape) looking crusty and unwashed.

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That was our experience at brunch. Comparing what we paid for meals and drinks to what we actually received, I have little interest in returning. Maybe just for drinks or for lunch, but not for brunch. I think the Crest has so much going for it, and I think that the doomsayers are wrong. Despite issues with service or lackluster food, the spot has been consistently busy ever since it opened. It’s now an accepted thing to find Indianola lined with cars. I truly hope that things even out at The Crest, because I like having good food in my neighborhood, and I love seeing a new business thrive.

The Crest Gastropub on Urbanspoon

BonBon Pastry & Cafe | Cleveland, OH

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BonBon Pastry & Cafe
(Facebook / @BonBonBakeShop)

2549 Lorain Ave. (map it!)
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 458-9225
Open Mon, 6:30a-3p; Tues-Fri, 6:30a-8p; Sat, 7a-8p; Sun, 7a-3p
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/Y/Y
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Sunday, August 18, 2013 at 9:00 a.m.

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For our last official meal stops on the Positively Cleveland #HappyinCLE bloggers’ weekend, our guides polled the group for Sunday brunch, and the group wisely chose BonBon in Ohio City. We had been near BonBon the day before, when we toured the West Side Market and walked to the Ohio City Farm, but today we had a chance to be treated to brunch at the cafe.

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BonBon’s beautiful corner space is bright and welcoming. The cafe counters are made of marble, with lots of wood accents.

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From what I’ve read, the business started as a market stall with baked goods, and transitioned into a brick and mortar space two years ago. So not surprisingly, pastries, donuts, rolls still feature strongly on the menu.

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It’s almost unfair, walking into the restaurant on an empty stomach and being faced with a giant tray of cinnamon rolls. Unfair, until you realize that you can order one of those bad boys.

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We started with coffee, and then moved quickly into brunch.

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BonBon’s brunch menu is eclectic and creative, one of the more interesting ones I’ve seen in recent months. You can find your standards like omelets, breakfast sandwiches, and eggs benedict, but there are some more unusual scores, too, like breakfast nachos and morning tacos.

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On the suggestion of our guides, the table started with a plate of cinnamon sugar donuts. These little lightly-fried nuggets are served with sides of mascarpone, chocolate sauce, and preserves, and they had just the right sugary crunch.

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Maybe it was the whole pastry theme, but I was in a sweet mood, so the vanilla bean French toast stood out to me. What also caught my eye was the toppings of blueberry compote, mascarpone, and corn. Maybe putting corn on French toast might seem strange to some, but after years of eating Jeni’s sweet corn and black raspberry ice cream, it makes perfect sense. Like Jeni says, it’s just like putting jam on cornbread.

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I got to photograph and sample some of the other bloggers’ meals, too. BonBon certainly knows how to plate their brunch, and how to work up some interesting combos. For instance, the corned beef hash loaded with brussel sprouts, egg, potatoes, mushroom, onions, peppers.

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Or the silver dollar pancakes with real maple syrup and cider bacon.

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Or the breakfast sandwich with a big, homemade maple sausage patty, eggs, cheddar, tomato and a side of sweet potatoes. I tried a bite of this sandwich and really loved it – the sausage is terrific. I’d order this the next time I visit.

All in all, our brunching at BonBon was excellent. Good service – able to handle our large table with ease. And some delightfully creative and tasty brunch dishes. If that’s not reason enough to visit, consider their breakfast happy hour: Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 3-8pm, you can get their breakfast entrees for $5.

Bonbon Pastry & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Lucky’s Cafe | Cleveland, OH

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Lucky’s Cafe
(Facebook / @LuckysCafe)

777 Starkweather Ave. (map it!)
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 622-7773
Open Mon-Fri, 7a-5p; Sat & Sun, 8a-5p (bfast served 9a-3p daily, all other hours feature coffee and pastries only)
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/Y/Y
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Saturday, August 17, 2013 at 9:00 a.m.

Lucky’s is the first breakfast I’ve had in Cleveland, and judging by the recommendations I’ve had for it over the years, it’s a very good place to start. On a recent weekend excursion hosted by Positively Cleveland, our blogger group visited Lucky’s for our Saturday morning breakfast stop. Our exact itinerary was guided by Cleverlanders through social media using the hashtag #HappyinCLE, and they overwhelmingly sent us to Lucky’s.

This breakfast was provided as part of our weekend visit. If you want to read about Part 1 of the visit, see here!

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Lucky’s is situated in the heart of Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood, an up-and-coming area full of beautiful houses with little shops and restaurants tucked in between them. Approaching Lucky’s from the front, you’ll see a large patio and a garden next to it. By 9 a.m. on a Saturday, the place was filling up.

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We learned that the owner Heather Haviland is originally a pastry chef, and she began her role at Lucky’s baking an array of delicious goods before she eventually took over the business.

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Because of that, there’s a big counter up at the front with loads of beautiful baked goods and full coffee service. The cafe even has opening and closing hours during which they only sell coffee and pastries.

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The inside of the cafe is bright and crammed full of tables, with the rear section raised up a couple steps.

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Our meal kicked off with an appetizer of sorts: a few orders of Lucky’s pecan bacon. I’m a fan of bacon in general (that goes without saying), but you’ll always keep my attention by doing something to the bacon. Lucky’s bacon is cooked through without being too crisp, and the topping is earthy and sweet without being over the top. If you were just coming to Lucky’s to eat a plate (or four) of pecan bacon, you’d be in good shape.

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I ordered one of the suggested dishes: the Shipwreck. There are certainly days when I can’t or won’t decide on what to get for breakfast, and that’s when catch-all meals like the Shipwreck are handy. It’s a little bit of everything: bacon, eggs, potatoes, veggies, cheese, plus toast and fruit on the side. Although it’s a big dish to reckon with, it was all cooked well without being dried out. Suffice to say, I finished it.

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Another member of our party order the bruleed steel cut oatmeal, a heaping bowl of oats covered with winter fruits and lightly torched. It also came with a beautiful side of eggs en croute, baked in a dish with spinach and cream.

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There’s also the biscuits, topped with cheese, eggs, and gravy, plus a side of potatoes and fruit. It’s a big chunky gravy, served in a huge portion.

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Our server did a great job handling our slightly larger group, and the food came out quickly (although it was nice having the pecan bacon appetizer). Part of me really thrives on seeing busy breakfast and brunch cafes on Saturdays and Sundays. These are the biggest days for the morning meal, and places like Lucky’s are at the heart of any local scene.

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On our way out we sneaked a peak at some of the bakery offerings, although we were so stuffed we couldn’t imagine picking up anything.

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Like many of the restaurants we saw over the weekend, Lucky’s prides itself on usually locally-produced goods. Behind the patio lies a little garden. We were told that Lucky’s employees work part of their shift tending to the garden, so everyone is invested and knowledgeable in the cafe’s mission.

So there you have it: breakfast stop #1 in Cleveland. I’m happy to have finally been to Lucky’s. It’ll certainly be on my radar during any return visits.

Lucky's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Mazah Mediterranean Eatery | Columbus, OH

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Mazah Mediterranean Eatery
(Facebook / @Mazah_Eatery)

1439 Grandview Ave. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43212
(614) 488-3633
Open Mon-Thurs, 11a-3p, 5-9p; Fri & Sat, 11a-10p (brunch served Sat & Sun – HOURS STILL BEING CONFIRMED)
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/Y/Y
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Saturday, April 20, 2013 at 10:00 a.m.

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There are a lot of Mediterranean restaurants around Columbus, some of the generic drive-through gyro quality and some more authentic, or at least more elaborate. And of those restaurants, not many serve breakfast. There’s Anna’s in Dublin, Olive Tree in Hilliard, and here: Mazah Mediterranean Eatery in Grandview. Mazah has been open for a few years now, and occupies a small storefront on Grandview Avenue with a small patio. The interior is cozy without feeling crammed, punctuated by warm colors and bits of greenery placed here and there.

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The restaurant was not at all busy when we visited (hint), so we were seated in a booth near the front windows right away. Because we were the focus of attention, a couple different servers kept things coming to us pretty quickly. One of the things I enjoyed about this breakfast was the opportunity to try something different than your standard American eggs-bacon-pancakes. For instance, we started with a couple Turkish coffees. Turkish coffee is served in small mugs; the volume is more akin to an espresso shot than a large cup of drip coffee. But good things come in small packages: Turkish coffee is rich, dark, a tad bitter, and sports a layer of sediment at the bottom. The term “Turkish coffee” actually refers to a preparation of coffee that involves steeping hot water in very finely ground coffee, sometimes with sugar, then serving it in a small cup without straining the grounds. Hence the sediment.

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The brunch dishes at Mazah are colorful and flavorful, such as the simple Potatoes & Eggs: redskin potatoes with scrambled eggs, a generous helping of parsley, and other seasonings.

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It’s a big portion of soft potatoes mixed with the eggs.

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The egg dishes comes with pita bread and your choice of sides. In this case we chose tomatoes, pickles, and hummus.

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We also tried the Fava Beans, which are mixed with olive oil, onions, fresh herbs, garnished with tomato and cucumber. It’s a very protein-rich meal, very filling. All of these meals are also great for sharing – we passed them around the table all throughout the meal.

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With our third meal we ordered sides of hummus, feta, and labineh. Labineh (also spelled labneh) is a strained cheese, made in a process similar to Greek yogurt. It’s flavor is lightly sour and savory, and served with a drizzle of olive oil and za’tar spice.

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One of the real stars of Mazah’s breakfast is the shakshouka, a Middle Eastern/North African egg dish made from cooking eggs in a skillet with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and a rich blend of spices. It’s a great way to have eggs in a different preparation than you normally order. Shakshouka is only served at two places in town (as of this writing): the Olive Tree in Hilliard and Mazah.

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Good to the last drop.

We very much enjoyed our brunch experience at Mazah, and I think the place really does deserve to busier. Their menu includes a diverse mix of dishes that should please everyone, including anyone that might be hesitant about a breakfast beyond the traditional American one. And it’s a chance to explore something new for your morning meal. Also a bonus: solid options for vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free eaters.

ADDITION: If you want to read more about shakshouka, see my article in the May 2013 Crave Magazine.

Mazah Mediterranean Eatery on Urbanspoon

The Electric Cheetah | Grand Rapids, MI

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Electric Cheetah
(Facebook / @CheetahSnacks)

1015 Wealthy St. SE (map it!)
Grand Rapids, MI 49506
(616) 451-4779
Open Mon-Wed, 11a-9p; Thurs-Sat, 11a-10p; Sun, 10a-4p (brunch served Sundays only)
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/Y/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Sunday, July 7, 2013 at 10 a.m.

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Electric Cheetah is another one of those hip restaurants that has opened since we moved away from Grand Rapids. It’s in the center of a growing district along Wealthy Street, which runs east-to-west a little ways south of downtown. Much of Wealthy Street’s brick streets have been rebuilt, and the neighborhood identity has lent itself to a growing number of restaurants, stores, a theatre, coffee shops (like Rowster American Coffee), bakeries, and more. Electric Cheetah fits well in the middle of all this: kitschy, trendy, fun, a little goofy, and a big draw.

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Case in point: re-purposed family portraits are hung on the walls. Note the big one on the left.

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The restaurant is mainly one giant room with an open kitchen. Floor-to-ceiling windows let in a lot of light. There are a handful of cafe tables out front, too.

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Points to them for having an eclectic and creative menu, too. All of the brunch sections are given churchy names like Morning Service, Covenant Youth (for the kids’ menu), Benevolent Ladies Luncheon (for salads, pasta, and entrees), and Church Potluck Supper (for mac & cheese dishes). The individual plate names are fun, too: #hashtag for brisket & hash, Donkey Kong toast for banana bread French toast, or breakschetta for a breakfast bruscetta. Notice that there are a lot of vegan options, too.

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Coffee is a standard order for us. It arrived in our preferred presentation: with cold cream. It’s good coffee, although I didn’t catch the roaster.

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One of Electric Cheetah’s claims to fame is their root beer menu, which is certainly the largest I’ve ever seen. It’s an entirely separate page from the regular menu and it spans over 40 bottled selections plus one on tap. I’ve never thought to pair brunch with root beer, but I took advantage of their menu and tried a sweet Michigan brew from Wild Bill’s.

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The brunch menu is a little pricier than a straight-up diner breakfast, but the creative dishes and flavorful combinations make up for it. I wanted something savory, and a huevos rancheros or chilaquiles always draws my attention, so I ordered the ranchero deluxe: open-faced corn tortillas topped with potatoes, eggs, and beef tips with gravy. Very rich with the gravy, but nicely seasoned. A really solid brunch dish.

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Mrs. Bfast w/Nick ordered the S&!t on a Shingle. We love a good SOS, and liked this creative take on it. Instead of just chipped beef in gravy on toast, they top grilled baguettes with house-made corned beef, a “cheddar fondue,” and a fried egg. Again, a rich and flavorful dish – I especially liked the corned beef and cheese mixture (how could you not?), and almost preferred that to the huevos.

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Electric Cheetah could be called Eclectic Cheetah (I’m not the first one to make this joke, right?). The brunch menu covers a lot of ground without feeling stretched. The decor includes the old family portraits, crazy ceiling lamps, plus a smattering of other styles of art. I liked this detail above the kitchen, of the plants and their roots painted on the bulkhead.

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Even if you sit at the counter, you still get to eye the portraits.

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We arrived about ten minutes prior to Electric Cheetah’s opening for brunch, and already there was a small crowd out front. By the time we left the place was full, and I can see why. The atmosphere and food is fun and funky without being too off-the-wall, and our server was very friendly and helpful, although the food took a little longer to arrive than expected. But that’s brunch for you: it’s supposed to be relaxed and casual, starting a little later in the morning and allowing you to ease into the day. And if Electric Cheetah is a sign of the neighborhood’s continued revitalization, I’d say they’re right on track.

Electric Cheetah on Urbanspoon

Anna’s House | Grand Rapids, MI

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Anna’s House
(Facebook)

3874 Plainfield Ave. NE (map it!)
Grand Rapids, MI 49525
(616) 361-8500
Open Mon-Sat, 6a-2p; Sun, 7a-2p
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/Y/Y
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Saturday, July 6, 2013 at 8:00 a.m.

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Even though I’m a native of Grand Rapids, even though I fervently follow the breakfast scene there, even though I follow breakfast just about anywhere, somehow I had never heard of Anna’s House until it was announced that they were voted the best breakfast joint in the state of Michigan. After I got over the shock that my neighborhood favorite Real Food Cafe didn’t win the honor, I was still happy to have something new to explore, and to know that the Grand Rapids breakfast scene is getting its fair share of attention. Of course, voting polls like this always bug me, and you can always get nit-picky about one person’s opinion. But in some ways I feel bad for Anna’s. Whenever something is declared the #1 anything, you’re setting up people’s expectations unnecessarily high. All this is to say that we were still excited and slightly apprehensive to finally check out Anna’s on our recent trip up to GR.

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Anna’s can be found in northeast Grand Rapids on Plainfield Avenue, in a building that must have once been a Pizza Hut or some other fast food restaurant. This is away from burgeoning districts like downtown, Eastown, or Wealthy Street, but it’s good to spread the breakfast love to all four corners of the city.

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Fortunately, the space has been thoroughly redecorated so that nothing remains of the sterilized corporate atmosphere.

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Instead, the interior is colorful and eclectic, with lots of artwork, multiple dry erase menu boards, and plenty of tables and booths. We hit the place up right around 8 am, when the sign inside the door still said “Please seat yourself.” By the time we left, the waiting area was packed full of people. Another double-edged sword of winning awards: you’re full all the time, and you’re full all the time.

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Anna’s has a wide-ranging menu, covering ground that includes skillets, eggs benedict, burritos, sandwiches, omelets, pancakes, quiche, and nearly everything in between.

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Of course, the standard menu barely scratches the surface. The true feature is the colorful menu board listing weekly specials. Here they’re covering more ground that includes seafood, southern specialties like chicken and waffles, French toast that’s baked overnight, a vegan hippie hash of root vegetables and sprouts, and traditional dishes with crazy combinations. This is a wonderful array of things, but this wide-ranging eclecticism starts to undermine the identity of the restaurant.

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Is Anna’s trying to be a working class, third-shift go-to for breakfast grub, like you see with the mis-matched mugs and strong, hot coffee? Or is it trying to be a hippy-haven with servers with flowers in their hair and recipes that they literally dreamed up? Or is it trying to be a pastel-colored casual cafe that appeals to the old folks? There are authentic hints of each of these elements, but at times it felt like Anna’s House (there isn’t an Anna, by the way) hasn’t quite decided what to be.

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Whatever Anna’s is or is attempting to be, you can’t argue with the line of patrons out the door and some very creative breakfast dishes. For instance, I ordered the breakfast lasagna, one of their signature meals that exemplifies their creative spirit. This is the recipe that our server dreamt up overnight and began cooking. It’s an artful combination of tomatoes, mushrooms, sausage, cheese, and fresh herbs. All very flavorful, although the biggest punch is delivered by the dollop of gravy on top. It’s served with a side of well-seasoned redskin potatoes.

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I’m a sucker for any place that makes their own corned beef hash in-house (canned stuff = blech), so we ordered it as a side. Generous pieces of tender corned beef mix well with the house potatoes, accompanied by the random plastic cup of yellow mustard.

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The Mrs. went for the grapes of wrath omelet special: an omelet with Brie, grapes, and bacon. Very interesting combination, although the texture of soft eggs, crispy bacon, and the Brie rinds wasn’t entirely to my liking. Served with a side of toast; I should note that Anna’s very readily does gluten free sides by request. This was also the best presented dish of the bunch. The lasagna and corned beef hash were tasty but a little slap-dash in their plating.

Is Anna’s #1 in the state? That’s impossible for me to say, really, but I can admit that my preference (at least in Grand Rapids) still lies with Real Food Cafe. Again, Anna’s offers some very creative dishes and a comfortable atmosphere, both of which merit a visit to the restaurant, but the hard-to-pin-down identity made it difficult to know exactly what to expect. Here’s hoping, though, that the #1 rating helps keep the restaurant open and the hard-working crew busy.

Anna's House on Urbanspoon

Beyond Breakfast: Da Levee | Columbus, OH

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For a white kid who grew up in the Midwest, it’s surprising how much spicy cajun and creole cuisine feels like comfort food to me. We never made it growing up, I’ve never been to New Orleans, but as long as I can remember I’ve loved this style of food. I love the heavy load of spices. I love how it’s filling. And I’ve had some great examples, from Creole Kitchen in Columbus to the amazing Bourbon N Toulouse in Lexington, KY. But just as worthy is Columbus’ Da Levee.

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Da Levee has a small storefront in Short North, just north of Buttles Avenue, and in the winter months the warm food and atmosphere make me want to hole up there for hours. It’s probably good that we don’t live closer to Da Levee, because if we did I’d find myself justifying multiple visits per day.

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The specials rotate regularly, so it’s best to keep an eye on their Facebook page. The owner Justin Boehme is good about posting an image of the day’s menu, so it’s easy to find out what they’re slinging. The menu shifts between varieties of etouffee, chowder, red beans & rice, maque choux, gumbo, jambalaya, po boys, and burritos. I’ve never had a bad meal at Da Levee, but my personal favorite is the chili cheese etouffee with crawfish. Here’s a sampling of some of the other dishes we’ve enjoyed:

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Spinach and mushroom etouffee. A good etouffee is probably my favorite dish in the repertoire of creole/cajun food.

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Red beans and rice with sausage.

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Spinach and mushroom etouffee again. All entrees are served over rice, with a side of toasted bread that’s heavily buttered and seasoned. Perfect for scooping up bites.

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White chilikin’, aka white chicken chili.

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Two bonuses about ordering: you can pick small plates ($5), large plates ($7), or half-and-half plates ($8). This lets you adjust to your appetite, and it allows you to easy sample and share with a table full of friends. The second bonus is that many of these dishes are vegetarian and can be made vegan, so it’s an easy go-to with group of varying tastes and needs. Okay, I lied. There are three bonuses, the third of which is that this type of food blends flavors and spices so well. Most dishes are some version of a slow-cooked stew, so the meat, veggies, beans, and heavy dose of spices have time to combine. In single-digit temperatures like today’s, a plate of spicy hot meat and vegetables piled on rice sounds like a bit of home to me.

Aaaaaaaand… now that I’ve finished this post, I’m hungry and want to go there for lunch today.

Plan your own visit:
Da Levee
765-C N. High St. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43215
dalevee.com
Also on Facebook and Twitter @DaLeveeCajun

You can sometimes catch Justin at the Da Levee Express food cart, or during late night hours out the backdoor of the restaurant at Backdoor Burritos, serving Fridays and Saturdays until 3 a.m.

Da Levee on Urbanspoon

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